My best worst lesson

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Best: The first drama lesson I had with 9D began inauspiciously when two of the class had opened the trapdoor in the school stage and were tunnelling deep under the hall
Best: The first drama lesson I had with 9D began inauspiciously when two of the class had opened the trapdoor in the school stage and were tunnelling deep under the hall. Another four had found the mechanism to close the stage curtains. They merrily swept the fabric to and fro. The rest of the class was kicking the class geek. It was like a scene from Lord of the Flies, albeit in a Nottinghamshire comprehensive.

Minutes before the second lesson, I was sweating. And desperate. So desperate, my thoughts returned to the Cub Scouts and a game we played there - which was transparently to shut the children up and waste time.

"Lie down silently," I instructed the class. "Not on each other," I added. I explained that acting relied on timing. The pupil who raised their hand closest to the passing of 30 seconds would win a chocolate bar.

The pupils laid there in silence. It was a miracle; as if they'd all swallowed arsenic. After 10 seconds, half the class had raised their hands. After a minute, I told them who'd been closest. Next go, they had to wait for a whole minute, then five minutes, then 10 minutes. Before I could fully comprehend the glory, the lesson had finished.

"The hall was quiet this afternoon," said Liam, the deputy head. He was impressed. That year, 9D were to become connoisseurs of timing.

Worst: When a bird the shade of midnight swoops into a classroom jammed with teenagers, it's hard to know how to react. The PGCE syllabus doesn't cover errant wildlife. So I swore. Quietly. And only Stacey heard.

The invader was as meaty as a dobermann and possessed a beak that could score glass. The pupils jumped from their plastic seats and pushed their backs flush with the far wall. I instructed them to stay calm, my voice faltering.

Perched on the free desk in front of mine, the crow's stare seemed only to intensify. Its eyes grew darker. I stood and held aloft my palms as if the bird was pointing a gun. I didn't want the animal to anger. I'd seen The Birds.

I began to wonder how long I could watch it without taking any action when Matthew (whose last contribution to the class, three months earlier, was to ask if all poetry was "f'ing rubbish") ghosted to the side of the crow. It rotated its head with cruel deliberation to peer at the boy. He smiled and offered his forearm.

I could feel my blood drain away as the black mass hopped on to Matthew's arm. Birded up, he paced to the open window. Safely there, the animal flapped off.

Crows are supposed to be harbingers of death. The only thing that died that day was any lingering respect 10C might have had for their new English teacher.

Tom Mitchell teaches at Eltham College in south-east London.

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